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Author Archives: Tara Jefferson

Can Reading For Fun Go Viral?

A quiet crisis in literacy has hold of Cleveland, Ohio. A staggering 80 percent of incoming kindergartners are unprepared for school. Twenty-five percent of residents over 25 lack a high school diploma. A full 40 percent of third graders are not reading at grade level.  "When we're out and we're talking about these numbers, people's jaws drop," said Robert Paponetti, executive director of the Literacy Cooperative, a small Cleveland nonprofit working to improve literacy.  "We really needed to have an answer when people asked, 'What can I do to help?'"  Here, a dad reads to his newborn as part of the #CLELiteracy social media campaign The Cooperative's top 10 list is a start. Released last month, it is an accessible call to action for Northeast Ohioans to commit to improving... Read More →

Review: Cristina Henriquez’ “The Book of Unknown Americans”

One word captures what motivates immigrants to venture to a new country: Better. Indeed, "better" is the catch-all for the immigrant families at the center of Cristina Henriquez' second novel, The Book of Unknown Americans. Gathered from various corners of Central America --- Panama, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay – her characters all make their home in a small, dank apartment building in a sleepy Delaware town.   In an interview with Bustle.com, the Chicago-based Henriquez said that she wasn't writing a political statement, but hoping to fictionalize the contemporary immigration debate. "The highest praise I’ve gotten so far is that somebody living in Delaware told me, after they read my book, they were driving down Kirkwood, which is where the families all live," she... Read More →

What Has The Obama Administration Done For Women of Color?

Not enough, says a group of concerned women and girls, who have signed a letter to the president, calling for inclusion in his private-public initiative, "My Brother's Keeper."    The initiative, which the Obama Administration announced in February, brings together foundations, nonprofits, and businesses to address the social, economic, and judicial challenges facing young men of color. Inequalities within schools and the criminal justice system are its urgent focus, alongside increasing mentoring and strengthening families in minority communities.  But for the 1,200 women who signed the letter—including activists Angela Davis, Rosie Perez, Alice Walker, and Janet Mock—this approach leaves young women of color "waiting for the next train."  Some 200 black men signed a... Read More →

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis’ Grandson To Pay Tribute To Legendary Actors In New Documentary

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in the play, "Jeb," in 1946. Actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis met in 1946 in New York City when they were both cast in "Jeb," a play by Herman Shumlin about racial intolerance.  Davis stopped to fix his tie during rehearsal and in an instant, Dee was captivated. "My attraction to him was the one miracle of my life," Dee would say later. Their love for one another is the basis of the upcoming documentary, "Life's Essentials with Ruby Dee," produced and directed by their grandson, filmmaker Muta'Ali Muhammad. Dee died June 11, mere days before its world premiere June 22 at the American Black Film Festival in Manhattan.  Born Ruby Ann Wallace in 1924, Dee moved with her parents from Cleveland to Harlem as an infant. There she grew up amongst the lush backdrop... Read More →

When Maya Met Toni: The 40-Year-Friendship Between Two Literary Giants

 Anisfield-Wolf winner Toni Morrison found herself on stage at the Hay Festival in Wales May 28, the same day her friend Maya Angelou died in North Carolina at the age of 86. The obvious question—"Do you have any words to say about her life and legacy?"—was coming.    "She launched African-American women writing in the United States," Morrison said, choosing her words carefully. "She was generous to a fault. She had 19 talents...used 10. She was a real original. There's no duplicate." The friendship between Morrison and Angelou spanned more than 40 years. In 1973, Angelou wrote to Morrison after she finished reading Sula, telling her, "This is one of the most important books I've ever read." Their friendship deepened as they continued to cross paths and support one another's... Read More →

Final Fundraising Push For First Full-Length Lorraine Hansberry Documentary

The world almost lost Lorraine Hansberry's most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun, before it ripened.  In a moment of frustration, Hansberry threw the script in the trash. Luckily for us, her husband retrieved it from the wastebasket in their New York City apartment and set it aside for her to complete. She did.  Two years later, on March 11, 1959, it debuted on Broadway, earning Hansberry the distinction of being the youngest dramatist and the first African-American to win the Best Play award from the New York Drama Critics Circle. The story focuses on the Younger clan, a hard-working Black family in Chicago dreaming of moving up in the world after their patriarch's passing.  After several revivals, the play continues to speak to the nation’s racial turmoil and inequality. The... Read More →

The Article On Race Every American Should Read

When writer Ta-Nehisi Coates visited Cleveland on a frigid February morning earlier this year, he was blunt when asked about America's trouble acknowledging race. "You can't have America without black people," he said. "Once you understand that, you understand that the black experience is at the core of what it means to be free." His latest treatise for The Atlantic magazine, "The Case for Reparations," throws down the gauntlet on one of the most contentious subjects our nation has grappled with: how to make amends for 250 years of U.S. slavery. "Perhaps no statistic better illustrates the enduring legacy of our country’s shameful history of treating black people as sub-citizens, sub-Americans, and sub-humans than the wealth gap," he writes. "Reparations would seek to close this... Read More →

Will British Period Piece “Belle” Resonate With Moviegoers?

When screenwriter Misan Sagay visited the storied Scone Palace in Scotland, an 18th century painting of a pair of aristocratic women -- one a woman of color, the other white -- caught her eye. Despite the antiquity of the painting, the women were positioned and clothed in equal fashions -- an arrangement that intrigued the screenwriter. It started her hunt -- years combing through archives -- to piece together the history of those two women. Her research informed the screenplay for "Belle," the film based on the darker-skinned woman in the portrait, opening in theaters today. British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays the title character, Dido Elizabeth Belle, born the biracial daughter of an Navy Admiral and African woman in 1761. Sent to live with her aristocratic uncle, Dido straddles... Read More →

“Half Of A Yellow Sun” Nigerian Release Delayed By Censors

Two weeks after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chiwetel Ejiofor walked the red carpet at the Lagos premiere of "Half Of A Yellow Sun," the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board has halted its theatrical release in Nigeria. The screen adaptation of Adichie's 2006 novel premiered in September 2013 at the Toronto Film Festival. The film stars Thandie Newton (Crash) and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) as two sisters caught in the middle of the Nigerian-Biafran War. One million people died as a result of the conflict.  Hear from the director Biyi Bandele in this brief interview from BBC Africa on why he believes the board has blocked the release of the film:   listen to ‘Nigeria delays Biafran war film’ on Audioboo  The film will be available in limited release for selected U.S.... Read More →

“The Best Book Describing the South” That Most Have Never Read

Nate Shaw, 22, with his wife and young daughter in 1907. When Theodore Rosengarten won the National Book Award in 1975 for "All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw," he beat out a classic of nonfiction, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's "All the President's Men," at the height of the Watergate scandal.  Forty years later, general readers tend to know “All the President’s Men” while Rosengarten’s work is obscure. Now the New York Times has drawn fresh attention to “All God’s Dangers” in "Lost in Literary History: A Tale of Courage in the South." (Read full story here.)  The book began simply -- as a conversation. In 1968, Rosengarten accompanied his future wife, Dale, on a trip to Alabama for research on her senior thesis, an examination of the Sharecroppers Union of the... Read More →
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